Salt: too much or too little can be hard on your health. So how does a person strike a balance? And how much is too much? Health Canada
recommends the average adult ingest no
more than 1,500 mg a day of sodium—
equal to about two-thirds of a teaspoon
of table salt. (Common table salt is made
up of sodium and chloride.)
Most of us get far more than that
because salt lurks in so many everyday
“Salt is absolutely everywhere,” says
Dr. Norm Campbell, a professor with the
Department of Medicine at the University
of Calgary and a member of the Libin
Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta.
Campbell is also Canadian chair in
Hypertension Control and Prevention and
has become a vocal crusader against salt.
Too much salt is associated with
a high risk of hypertension (high
blood pressure), which can lead to
cardiovascular disease, kidney disease,
erectile dysfunction, stroke, aneurism,
dementia and lapsed circulation.
Salt also promotes gastric cancer,
and is associated with asthma, obesity,
calcium-containing kidney stones and
The sodium found naturally in food
makes up about 1/10th of the sodium we
eat and is crucial to the body, regulating
hydration and contributing to cell health.
Some illnesses or drugs can cause the body
to lose too much salt, resulting in low blood
pressure and dehydration, which can be
dangerous to some whose health is already
compromised. As well, some people can
lose too much salt when active in the heat.
The majority of the population,
however, takes in ample salt—in fact, far
In ancient times,
salt was as
valuable as gold.
salt is taking a
toll on our health,
contributing to a
number of diseases
Tom Olsen reports.
Part of what makes the presence of salt
(often listed on labels as sodium) so
insidious is that the passive consumer
has a hard time controlling it.
Bread, cheese, soup, crackers,
processed meats—many of the foods
Albertans regularly reach for are loaded
with salt. You can pass on the shaker and
still get too much of it.
The best way to keep your salt intake at
or below 1,500 mg is to be a studious label
reader, avoid most or all processed foods
and make whole foods—fresh meat, fruits
and vegetables—your diet’s staple.
Sandra Christiansen, a registered
dietitian with Alberta Health Services,
says consumers can help themselves by
reading food labels that break out the
percentage of sodium per serving.
“When they look at a package of
processed food they can put the amount
of sodium in context,” said Christiansen.
Unlearning our yearning
Medical experts say our taste for salt-laced foods is mostly a learned response to a flavour we enjoy.
We can also “unlearn” our yearning for salt, although it takes about eight weeks before unsalted
(or reduced-salt) food tastes “good” again.
The craving for salt is most likely to occur during disease, when the body has lost sodium. Some
elite athletes also crave salt after long periods of endurance. Otherwise, the recommended daily levels
for sodium are:
1,500 mg for people aged 9 to 50
1,300 mg for adults aged 51 to 70
1,200 mg for children aged 4 to 8
and for seniors over age 70
1,000 mg for children aged 1 to 3